(25) Twenty-Five

289-1118 to 314-1118

289-1118 (cont.) : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

Sir Bridgehead uses SlowDrug on Brock and Avon, which will put them back on their feet quickly.

290-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

Brock has now recovered from his injuries.

292-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

Avon has recovered from his injuries too.

295-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

The secondary gunnery station is repaired by Fostriades and Brock, and the systems are reconfigured to run all the weapons from there. The main gunnery station is much more seriously damaged. The Anastasia now needs only one gunner to run the few weapons that are still operational.

There is a discussion on what to do if they come out of jump into immediate conflict again. Fostriades suggests they prepare a suicide maneuver.

Brock is not impressed.

"Suicide? A suicide? A suicide maneuver? Why don't we just kill ourselves now?" he says.

Helen and Brock prefer to work on an evasion maneuver instead.

So what if they are in a situation where the Sir Walter Raleigh is attacked? Again, opinions differ but they don't want to abandon them.

The Sir Walter Raleigh's EMMask is not operational, as it was destroyed with the rest of the sensor systems, so the ship might well be a sitting duck. If they really came out into a firefight, there would be no choice but to leave them.

"So we've gone from committing suicide to abandoning our buddies," observes Brock.

They set up codes for self-destruction of the ship, just in case things are hopeless and they decide to use the ship as a 2kt missile. Surrender is not considered an option.

296-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

The Anastasia and Sir Walter Raleigh come out of jump together near the P9 gas giant at 07:30.

There is still a great deal of cockroach ship activity in this system.

They call up the Sir Walter Raleigh to check how the repairs have been going. All sensor systems are still down and are going to stay that way, although it would be possible to rig up some low-resolution simple sensors to help insystem navigation. The maneuver drive is in bad shape -- it suffered further damage during the jump, as there was a jump field problem in engineering in that area. The maneuver drive is working at 1g, but is likely to be very unreliable. They lost a total of 5 crew in the battle, and so now have just 12 people on board.

Sir Bridgehead suggests that they transfer all non-essential crew to the Anastasia, but the Sir Walter Raleigh replies that all their crew are essential.

Rufus indicates that there are no ships approaching them at present, so they can deal with the damage on both ships to a certain extent before they have to move.

Helen transfers Fostriades to the Sir Walter Raleigh on the pinnace, where they both check out the ship. The maneuver drives have been repaired somewhat. There is a breach in the hull near the drive, and there was clearly damage caused by the jump field extruding into the engineering section. The thruster plates are damaged and need realigning.

Fostriades suggests to Commodore Watson that, given the state of their ship and the fact that they have to make two more jumps, and that there are probably yet more cockroaches between where they are and where they want to get, that they would do better to be on the Anastasia and they would try to make one run for it. She will consider his advice, but at the moment wants to keep the ship running. Fostriades continues to emphasize his point, then spends eight hours on drive repairs, during which time the maneuver drive is completely shut down.

Mich spacewalks to check the outside of the Anastasia's hull. He patches up some of the damaged turrets to prevent them being further damaged in atmospheres, and also patches over the holes in the fuel tanks. This takes 5 hours, and restores a little weapon functionality. The weapon systems are still set up to be run by one gunner at the secondary station.

Rufus says that there are a great many ships in the system. They are mostly clustered around the outer planets, in particular the gas giants in orbits 8, 9, and 11.

The only other reasonable source of fuel is the planet Jax itself, which of course is rather too cold for cockroach tastes (they think). There are a couple of satellites of gas giants that have water, but those of course are not suitable right now.

The journey to Jax is a long way, 36au. To get there in six days they would have to run at 6.5g or so. At the Sir Walter Raleigh's 1g, it will take 16 days to get there, which is longer than the Anastasia's fuel will last. The Sir Walter Raleigh has more fuel left, and so they decide to share the fuel so they can both complete the trip, even though they will still be cutting it rather close.

The two engineers spacewalk to hook up a fuel transfer line. It takes them half an hour to connect, plus 5 hours to transfer the fuel.

297-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

At 02:00 they start the 16-day trip to the mainworld at P5, and should therefore arrive on 313-1118. The Anastasia is providing the sensor input for the Sir Walter Raleigh, and will update whenever a course correction is required.

It looks like nothing is coming to intercept them. They are traveling as quietly as they can.

304-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

The Sir Walter Raleigh has a stutter in the maneuver drive, but it is easily corrected by the engineering crew.. They handle the fixes by themselves, turning down Fostriades' offer to come over.

Both ships are staying on course, and there are no signs of pursuit or interception.

309-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

The Sir Walter Raleigh has a another drive stutter, but this one is corrected too.

312-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

The final course correction is carried out.

The Sir Walter Raleigh has a problem. The Anastasia's sensors show an explosion in engineering.

Mich calls on them to shut down their maneuver drives.

They tell him that both engineers were in engineering, and they have not responded to internal communications. They are shutting down the maneuver drives from the bridge, but say they are getting some strange fluctuations down there.

"Meaning?" asks Fostriades.

"Something funny is going on."

"Transfer the data!"

The engineering information feed is transferred to the Anastasia, where the Engineers and the Computer Officer try to interpret it.

It looks like their jump drive is starting to power fluctuate -- it's sucking power in some strange way. The jump drive, as Mich points out, is not even supposed to be on.

Fostriades tells them to pull the plug on the jump drive, but it doesn't seem to be responding. Fostriades checks the Anastasia's engines, but they are just fine.

Fostriades asks them if they have any reason to believe that the jump drive might in any way have been impinged upon by the jump field?

No they don't, and they can't shut things down, they seem to have lost all control of engineering from the bridge. They're sending some people down there to investigate.

Fostriades suggests they shut off computer control to the drive.

It does not respond.

Mich says they have two choices: send over the pinnace to start transferring people to the Anastasia, or send an engineer over to try to fix the Sir Walter Raleigh. All they can do now is analyze the data they are sending.

"What I'm looking for is," says Fostriades, "is this likely to cause the ship to lose coherence? Are they about to blow up?" He finds that the anti-matter phase inverter is going out of calibration wildly, and it looks like it's about to go.

Fostriades tells them to evacuate their ship, use their life pods, they will pick them up.

Mich asks Linda if they can do anything at all to the calibration of their engines from here. She says it's not responding to anything -- something's locked them out. There is nothing they can do.

Commodore Watson gives the order to Abandon Ship.

Vana suggests they move the Anastasia to a safe distance. Fostriades sees no need for haste yet, until he notices that things are getting rapidly worse. It's going to go up real soon.

The escape pods start leaving the Sir Walter Raleigh.

"We're about to find out what happens when our jump drive goes bad," says Fostriades.

Chiang Ho wrestles the Anastasia around, calling for everything Mich and Paula in engineering can give him. The ship leaps off at over 7g, with the inertial compensators still holding for now.

Several of the bridge crew anticipate a flare large enough to attract the entire space fleet, but Mich says it's not going to blow up that hard. They have no way to store anti-matter, so it couldn't be that big.

There is an immense spectacular explosion behind them as Chiang Ho tries to get the Anastasia out of the way. The explosion is very much larger than Mich was anticipating, and the blast front rapidly overtakes the Anastasia.

"Surfs up!" calls Teri.

Debris blasts past the Anastasia, which takes yet more weapons damage. There is no hull breach, but down in Engineering the maneuver drive takes a hit.

Mich and Paula are busy trying to pull more power out of the engines when a unit blows up in their faces. They are both flung across the room. Neither moves.

Kara is on station in Engineering, but out of the way of the engineering staff, and calls a medical emergency. She rushes to them, and finds that Paula is unconscious but Mich is dead.

Vana dispatches the two marines from Sick Bay to Engineering, and alerts Sir Bridgehead to be ready to receive casualties.

Brock arrives at Engineering from his cabin, and finds Kara carrying Mich to Sick Bay. She tells him that there's another person down. Brock assesses Paula's situation, performs a quick stabilization, and says he needs to get her to Sick Bay. The marines (which have now arrived from Sick Bay) carry her there.

In Sick Bay, Sir Bridgehead does a fine job of reviving Mich. He is of course on full life support, and it will be quite a while before he recovers enough to resume duties, even with SlowDrug. He manages to avoid Mich's dead-man switch taking effect.

Sir Bridgehead and Brock now start work on Paula.

Fostriades checks engineering status from the auxiliary bridge, and finds that conditions are stable -- nothing will get worse. He continues his analysis with Linda Gregson of "What the hell happened, because it might happen to us."

The explosion front has now passed the ship. The wreckage is getting spread out, and shouldn't be so much of a problem now.

They start the sensor search for surviving escape pods. They find 5 pods with transponders operating, and as far as they can tell these are all the pods there are.

The pinnace (with Helen and Teri) is launched, and it and the Anastasia retrieve up the pods. The rescue operation takes 1.5 hours.

Fostriades is working on the theory that the jump field somehow impinged on the jump drives and altered them. The most likely possibility to make that large an explosion would be an overdamped calibration correction system, setting up an oscillation in the phase inverter; it is unlikely that enough anti-matter could be in existence long enough unless there was some sort of peak spike in an oscillation from one extreme to the other. This is consistent with the data stream that was being beamed over -- the spikes get larger, with slightly longer dwell between them, until the last really large spike (they don't have the end of that one, of course).

Fostriades has gathered all the recordings of the data from the Sir Walter Raleigh, as well as everything that was said about it (including by Mich) during the buildup to the explosion.

The pinnace picked up two pods, with one survivor and one dead body; the Anastasia has picked up three, two of which survived -- and the third contains someone freshly dead who Sir Bridgehead can revive. So of the 12 crew known to have been on the Sir Walter Raleigh, they have three somewhat injured, one in intensive care, and one dead.

They have found just five pods -- Fostriades is concerned about the cockroaches picking up the remaining ones.

Records indicate that eight pods were launched, and it is postulated that the other three were destroyed in the blast. A simulation is run to try to predict where the other pods would have ended up, and although no identifiable wreckage is found there, the remains are consistent with there being a destroyed pod.

The survivors are: Commodore Judith Watson (in intensive care), and three other bridge crew (Communications Officer, Navigator, Pilot). The body they recovered was the First Officer.

Rufus reports that there are three ships on their way towards them from the outer planets, but a long way away at present.

The Anastasia moves off towards Jax, planning to refuel and hide on the planet.

After preliminary results of the analysis are complete, Fostriades goes down to Engineering to try to fix the maneuver drive. The work takes 8 hours, and the drive is successfully repaired. It is not necessary to take the drive off-line.

The hull will need some decontamination from radioactive debris, but that should mostly clear off in reentry to the atmosphere of Jax.

Fostriades looks into improving the self-destruct capabilities for the Anastasia, based on what they have learnt from the Sir Walter Raleigh. He works with Linda Gregson on this, and they find some surprising results.

It seems as though the computer calibration of the phase inverter on the Sir Walter Raleigh was oscillating very exactly right to produce a maximum yield explosion. It looks deliberate. It was too perfect to be accidental. The other thing that Linda thought was odd looks real funny in the light of this -- from the attempts they made to regain control remotely, it looks like control was deliberately locked out when the problem started. It really looks like sabotage. It looks like this was done from the computer -- the jump drive was started up after the maneuver drive failure by the computer at which point control was locked out.

Fostriades informs Delaney and Chiang Ho. His suspicions are that it was internal to the Sir Walter Raleigh, in that he knows of no way the cockroaches could have contaminated it, but he sees no logical reason for them to blow up their ship at that point, other than as an attempt to take both ships out.

There are in fact five ships approaching, in the 30kt-50kt range. They are far enough away that the Anastasia will be long gone by the time they get there.

314-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

At 03:00 the Anastasia arrives at the planet Jax. They have just enough fuel for one attempt at landing.

The chosen landing sight is at the edge of the northern ice cap, directly south from Jack's igloo.

At 04:00, Chiang Ho brings the Anastasia to a water landing, and takes it under the ice cap to hide.

They start refueling right away. By the time the refining is complete, Mich should be in a condition to be brought back to consciousness for limited periods.

If they were to surface, they could determine whether nearby systems had any gas giants, but it would take them two weeks.

Fostriades, in the presence of Lia and Vana, runs a personality profile on Linda Gregson through the computer, and it matches with a current evaluation. He wants access to the computer limited, and wants nobody to be in a position to do anything which Linda can't undo.

Vana wants to know why he is worried that someone is going to mess with the computer.

"Let's put it this way: someone messed with the Sir Walter Raleigh's," says Fostriades. "It was too damn good a job of blowing that ship up. And it started in the computer. The maneuver drive went down, the jump drive was started, and then all the control mechanisms were locked out. Couldn't stop it again. Then it blew up. It was sabotage."

"OK, well it's a reasonable assumption," says Vana.

"It appears to have happened from the...well, we've got the evidence. I can't show Mich 'cos he ain't conscious. What worries me is that was a crew which set out together, a long way away from the cockroaches, they've been working together apparently with perfect amicability for a very long time. There's no earthly reason why they should suddenly develop internal dissension, and there's no logical reason for them to decide to take out their own ship."

"I know, I know!" says Vana, "Our computer sabotaged their ship because it was jealous!"

It is explained to Vana why this might at one time have been a reasonable deduction...

On hearing the story of how STAN eliminated the original Imperial Marines on the ship (when it was still the Kinunir), Vana issues an order that none of the marines are all to be in the same place at the same time, and at least two are to be in air-supplied battledress at all times.

Fostriades notes that, unfortunately, the computer containing all the useful information is the one that blew up. They were scanning the engineering data, but were not really gathering information on other stuff. He intends to interrogate the survivors by whatever means are necessary. A detailed reconstruction of what happened on the bridge might be relevant.

Back in his cabin with Lia, Fostriades ponders further on the cause of the explosion.

He confirms that the crew was original -- nobody joined the ship -- and there was no "change" noticed in anyone. He would expect that whatever happened would be something subtle.

All the normal software on the Sir Walter Raleigh was standard stuff, so that didn't cause the disaster. There is no evidence that a self-destruct program of any sort had been installed, so somebody had to come up with it on their own -- it wasn't a case of someone hijacking something that was not supposed to be misused.

Fostriades didn't think that the Sir Walter Raleigh had anyone with that much skill on board. To do something like that and conceal it requires not only the skill to do it, but also the skill to hide it. Gregson could do it, but she's very good. Fostriades and Mich could plan it, but it's unlikely they could hide it -- they don't have the computer skills. Mich and Gregson, or Gregson and Fostriades, but probably not either of them alone, although Linda is in the best position to do it single-handed because she knows so much about it, and of course also worked on the calibration. On the other hand, knowing how to create it to go wrong requires more knowledge of engineering than she might have; she only knows what was supposed to happen, and doesn't necessarily have the skill to work out how going wrong would affect things.

Since the crew did indeed abandon ship when the Anastasia suggested it, it seems unlikely that the captain ordered the destruction. They also have the communication logs, and can do personality analysis on those to try and detect whether they were acting normally surprised when they were discussing the problem, or whether they seemed to be hiding anything; everything seemed normal, apparently.

Fostriades analyses the damage to the Sir Walter Raleigh, but finds nothing that could explain the problem. There was no evidence of jump sickness among the crew.